If I were a smart journalist just making my way in the industry, I’d be trying to find a way to distinguish myself from my peers – something to give me a competitive edge.
With all this talk about journalists embracing digital media, I’d start having a look at where – up to this point – technology hadn’t much impacted on what I was being told about journalism. By finding this, and by exploiting it with new digital ideas, I might find a good way to make a name for myself.
So… what would I choose if I was a reporter now?
Well, I think it would be the contact book. We are all told when we’re starting out that one of the most important thing for a journalist to do is build up their contact book. Nowadays, we’re also told about building up our social media profile too.
But, whilst it’s immensely useful having a lot of interesting people following you on Twitter, the most effective thing about a contact book is that you can contact the right people directly when you need them.
So, if I were a smart journalist trying to build up my contacts, I’d first read up on the basics of the Data Protection Act.
Then I’d start trying to understand how to use a database. I’d develop a way for both me and other people to add to it. If I’ve had a great conversation or got information from someone on social media, I’d politely ask if they give me their email address so we could stay in touch. I’d also ask them if I could drop them a line every so often to let them know what I’m working on.
I’d try and add fields of key words that would mean I could search for relevant people later (even if I’ve forgotten their names).
I’d also figure out how I create email lists out of this database, so when I need to I can contact a range of people who may know something about a topic I’m writing about.
I’d realise this whole process was an utter pain in the arse but, in the long term, what i’m doing is establishing long-term direct contact with potential sources. It would also give me something that a lot of journalists don’t have and brands will potentially pay a lot of money for: a large, direct-contact database. That’s something that could give me the competitive edge in tracking down the right person for my story in the future. It could, done right, also give me one of the most organised, useful contact books in the industry.
Which has to be useful… right?